By Crystal Wimer, Preserve WV AmeriCorps serving at Harrison County Historical Society
Recently, I read a new book on how to sustain historic house museums entitled Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums. The authors, Frank Vagnone and Deborah Ryan, theorize that the key to sustainability lies in more community engagement and a more balanced approach when it comes to preserving its collection and improving visitor experiences. Historic house museums are not just storehouses for artifacts, but should be interpreted as places for community engagement and dialogue. Often, the Harrison County WV Historical Society struggles to get feedback regarding its programming and from its volunteers, and I was ready to experiment with new methods for better community engagement. As I was reading the Anarchist Guide, I unintentionally tested Vagnone and Ryan’s theories on community engagement with my volunteers. Then later, I deliberately used them on a recent tour of the Stealey-Goff-Vance House. I discovered there was better engagement with our historic house museum and the HCWVHS when I encouraged physical interactions with our artifacts.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my first “test subjects” were our volunteers. The artifact collection housed in the rear display room and dining room had to be packed in preparation for repairs to the foundation of the Vance House. I’ve had trouble retaining volunteers to work in the archives, so I believed that working with the collection in the house would produce a similar outcome. To my surprise as my volunteers worked with artifacts week after the week, the more they kept dropping hints about wanting to reorganize artifacts in other rooms of the house. The question I heard over and over for five weeks was “Well, once we’re done with this, what’s next?” Apparently, our volunteers formed a connection while handling the artifacts when they were packing them for storage. For them, the packing process was like uncovering rare treasures. Their fascination with our collection inspired them to want to assist more with reorganizing the collection and unpacking it when the preservation work is over. Since the packing finished, these new volunteers have been regulars at our open meetings and programs.
Now, my volunteers may have been unknowing “guinea pigs,” but my Vance House tour with the Stealey family was a planned trial of the Anarchist Guide’s theories. Previous house tours were restricted to the main floor, and we typically didn’t allow visitors to sit on the furniture or handle the artifacts. The Anarchist Guide; however, advocates letting visitors handle stable artifacts and giving them access to areas previously off-limits. So, this is exactly what I did with the Stealey family on their tour. The Stealeys were permitted to visit all locations in the house including the basement, attic, and artifact storage areas. Visitors rarely get to see the house’s original electric switch because it’s in the attic’s gable, but they did on this tour. If one of the children wanted to see an artifact up close, I brought it down and once I determined it was stable for them to handle, I let them. They also excitedly took advantage of the open invitation to take as many photographs as they wanted.
During the tour, the Stealeys still learned about the history of the Vance House, but this Anarchist-style tour was so much more personal because they had the freedom to explore every aspect of the house. I knew the tour was a success just based on the high level of enthusiasm from the family at the time. But, it wasn’t until I received an email from Mr. Stealey the following week that I officially knew these Anarchisttechniques should be something the HCWVHS does for future tours. Mr. Stealey wrote:
“Thanks so much for taking time to show us the house. We really enjoyed the informative tour. You did a great job with a lot of information/history to tell/show us. My kids keep saying that they could not believe that you let them look at and pick up stuff.”
Again because they were allowed to connect to the artifacts and the house, they were actively engaged with history, and they had a unique experience at the Vance House that they will remember years later.
So through my experiences, it seems Vagnone and Ryan’s theory on better community engagement through making connections with artifacts works. Through their engagement with our artifacts, the newer volunteers are eager to start new projects at the Vance House, and the Stealey family had a unique experience that they won’t forget because most museums don’t allow visitors handle the artifacts. So, I encourage West Virginia’s historic house museums to give their visitors access to their artifacts. Because who knows? Those visitors could turn into new volunteers, members, or possible donors, and I don’t know of any historic house museum that wouldn’t want more people caring about history.
This position is made possible through an AmeriCorps State and National Grant provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service and Volunteer WV.
By Ian Gray, Preserve WV AmeriCorps serving at the Old Hemlock Foundation
Most days when I head into the “office,” the first thing to do is reach down and greet the black and white ball of energy that runs to the front door. While serving with a pair of dogs is a soothing experience and an incredible perk, it also stands as a metaphor of the unique legacy and nature that makes Old Hemlock (http://www.oldhemlock.org/) so special. Many places claim it, but we at Old Hemlock can truly say that our history is alive.
Enthralled by the Allegany Mountains, grouse hunting, and English setters from a young age, George Evans knew the type of life he wanted to lead and lived it well. Finding success as a graphic artist in New York, George was able to secure the funds to acquire the country home he dubbed Old Hemlock and demonstrate enough talent to convince his art director at Cosmopolitan that working from the beauty of the West Virginia mountains was in everyone’s best interest. After the interruption of WWII, George quickly wrapped up his professional illustration career and turned his full attention to the things he loved the most, his wife Kay, grouse and woodcock hunting, writing, and breeding the line of gun dogs that have become a living legacy. Every March, that living history gathers in the rolling hills of southwestern Pennsylvania in the form of a small herd of beautiful dogs and their doting owners.
For three days, the Hunting Hills Shooting Preserve is filled with the sounds of joyous conversation, the sharp crack of gunshots, and collective barking from dozens of Old Hemlock setters eager to hit the field and find the waiting birds. Having never even held a gun, much less embarked on a hunting trip, being able to simply follow the dogs and owners into the field was an eye-opening experience. I had read the literature and had a basic grasp of the history associated with Old Hemlock, but the three-day immersion made everything come together. The bond between gunner and dog, the beauty of the slender setter on point, the exhilaration of a productive shot and subsequent retrieve, and so many other things described so eloquently in the pages of George’s writings were now before me in living color. In each dog rested the legacy of the man and woman who so carefully bred the line and the equally carefully selected owners carried on George’s view of hunting and respect for the game. While we are blessed at Old Hemlock with the natural beauty of nature around us and a literal house full of artifacts to tell the story of George and Kay, the real legacy and best storytelling tool will always remain the dogs and owners who gather at the reunion. Luckily for myself, the first AmeriCorps member to serve here realized the same thing and left an incredible resource to build off of and add to.
At every reunion, stories of times spent with George and Kay, their writings, their legacy, and, most numerous, the line of setters can be heard around the tables and out in the field. The history that the foundation was established to preserve rests in the hearts and minds of the close knit group of dog owners that form the Old Hemlock family, and in an external hard drive sitting in a box on a shelf back at the foundation. These precious stories, around twenty interviews, were copiously compiled and transcribed to provide the foundation with an Oral History archive of the anecdotes, thoughts, and feelings that were alive in the oral tradition but never written down or recorded. At the recent reunion, I got the chance to try my own hand at adding to the already rich archive.
Over the three days, three interviews were conducted capturing the perspectives of a new member to the Old Hemlock family and two individuals that experienced a common interest in dogs and gunning evolve into ownership of a setter placed by George and Kay and a treasured friendship. Having conducted oral history interviews before, I knew the stories shared by interviewees can be powerful, and it’s often surprising how much people are willing to share. However, I was still amazed and horned at what was spoken of in the interview process.
First and foremost, talking to the interviewees brought the subject and history squarely into the present. The interviewees’ testimony made memories of George and Kay, the dogs, and past reunions seem if they had happened only yesterday. I was brought back to the moments shared by the interviewees that conjured warm feelings of fond embraces, and at one point a few tears of joy, and felt, in some small way, that I had gotten to meet the people behind the wonderfully written books I had been reading the past few months. Beyond the figurative aspect of the past existing in the present, each interview made clear the story of Old Hemlock has yet to end. As the new member to the Old Hemlock family aptly demonstrated, the writings of George and Kay, the line of setters, and the annual reunion continue to carry on their memory have ensured that legacy will not die anytime soon. Old Hemlock’s mission is to preserve and promote the legacy of George and Kay and it benefits immensely from that legacy being more than static objects and writings, it is a group of people and a line of dogs that continues to grow with every new litter or owner. With this archive of interviews laying at my fingertips, the natural next step was to get the content out of the archive and into the public sphere.
The internet is a truly wonderful thing. A few clicks of the mouse can share virtually anything around the world in an instant. Having basic video editing skills in my tool belt, the possibilities inherent in the over twenty hours of raw video stuck out like a sore thumb. Each interview contained segments that eloquently and powerfully spoke to the many aspects of Old Hemlock’s history that were screaming to be shared and help the foundation’s mission. After taking inventory and some brainstorming, a plan emerged. Each interview would be dissected and the beset of the best content pulled out to form short (one to four minute) clips and then organized into groups (the impact of George’s writing for example) to be uploaded to the foundation’s YouTube page and shared with the online world. So far, the subsequent implementation has provided further valuable experience in video editing and gleaned a deeper appreciation for the past and present so enthusiastically shred by the interviewees.
Each time I hear and see the voices and faces on the screen, faces that went from strangers to incredibly welcoming and good natured people over the reunion, the tales told become more and more like conversations shared in the relaxed atmosphere of the reunion rather than files on some hard drive. Each clip sheds new light on the muti-faceted story we celebrate here at Old Hemlock and puts it in words that seem to be inspired from the pen of George and Kay as they look down on what they would be proud to call their legacy. As George poignantly stated, “Some men tell of beauty, speak of grace. I tell of grouse dogs that enriched me beyond measure and made me glad.”  Thanks to that intimate love for the dogs and his tireless effort to perfect the line, the Old Hemlock Foundation has, itself, been enriched beyond measure in the dogs that still bear the breeders mark and the owners who carry on a living memory that shows no signs of fading.
 George Bird Evans, An Affair with Grouse (Bruceton Mills: Old Hemlock, 1982), 110.
This position is made possible through an AmeriCorps State and National Grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Volunteer WV.
The reason behind the exhibit’s creation was from a lack of information and display on the African-American community in the Shepherdstown museum. The idea of adding a new exhibit started with the donation of a baseball uniform from a local team, the Shepherdstown Red Sox. The Red Sox were a baseball team of local African-American townspeople from the 1930s up to 1970. They played ball on Sunday afternoons, and we learned that those same people, plus others, were also a part of a choir group, the Brothers of Harmony. This group would travel around to religious organizations and perform choir concerts, and this with everything else, created busy Sundays.
The April 1st event was for Historic Shepherdstown Commission members and was for them to get together and see the museum before its reopening. The president of our commission stood in the new exhibit and greeted everyone who came up to see the exhibit. She talked to each of them telling about the exhibit, the history, and the background of the artifacts on display. Two people helped us with the mechanics of the construction of the exhibit, Rob McDonald and Angie Faulkner. Rob was instrumental in our ability to create the physical exhibit. Rob built a kiosk for a spinning information booth displaying three individuals who were interviewed for the exhibit. He also had a huge part in the development of the large display box we used for that exhibit. Angie put our ideas and thoughts into the world of graphic design and imagery. All of our graphics for that exhibit were designed and developed by Angie for use in the museum. The two of them together helped us to make a fantastic new exhibit that was up to par with professional exhibits.
Saturday April 2, 2016 was the moment of truth for the new exhibit. On this day, the Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum had an open house for the public. This open house had some of the members from the Shepherdstown Red Sox and the Brothers of Harmony come. These members were the ones who made the exhibit go from a thought to an actuality, through interviews and donations of artifacts for the exhibit. These men and their families stuck around for the majority of the day, talking and catching up with one another. Later in the day a newspaper editor came up to the men and interviewed them about the exhibit and its opening. These men were extremely pleased with the outcome of the exhibit. They made this point when talking to the newspaper editor. The editor stayed for a while and then left with a story to tell. The exhibit open house, shortly after this, came to an end around 5 p.m. and the ball players and choir members were there the whole time. They are now publicly in the story of the oldest town in West Virginia.
To learn more about this exhibit and the Shepherdstown Red Sox, visit
The exhibit can be viewed at the Entler Hotel located at 129 E. German Street in Shepherdstown, WV. The museum is regularly open Saturdays from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sundays from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Private tours are available upon appointment. Call 304-876-9010 for more information.
This project was made possible through the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program – funded through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Volunteer WV.
The Cockayne Farmstead is an incredibly unique place in a sea of historic homes. Built in 1850 and willed to the city in 2001, four generations of the same family lived in the home. However, what makes the home really special is that the family kept everything. And I do mean everything. With an eclectic collection covering everything from Adena arrowheads, an 1895 electric bill, and a calendar from 2001, I’m constantly surprised by the contents of our collections.
Although I’ve only been at the Cockayne Farmstead for a little over two months, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what to expect for the upcoming year. Thus far, I’ve acquired a grant to create the first permanent exhibition on the life of the Cockayne family from 1850 through WWII, set up and began operating the Farmstead’s social media pages, and assisted the county convention and visitor’s bureau in their move to our office next door to the Farmstead. More broadly, I’ll be working on developing the Farmstead as a heritage tourism destination, and improving its capacity to become an arts and educational center within the county. Suffice to say, it’ll be a pretty exciting year! I can’t wait to discover not only what West Virginia has to offer, but also what I can offer my corner of it.
So far in my term, I have been able to increase Facebook presence from 500 likes to almost 700. Many shows and events have been booked including a movie matinee which happened due to a partnership with other organizations, a blues concert, a first annual WV Hootenanny concert, a group of comedians, and more. Lately, every weekend has an event from October 31st to December 12th beside Thanksgiving weekend. On Saturday, November 21, 2015, LOL@Alpine II Comedy Show with Jacob Hall will be the featured presentation. The show starts at 8pm and is $10 (for mature audiences).
I’ve inventoried the entire theatre, testing equipment and determining the priorities of repairs/replacements that are needed. I have also created revenue/expense spreadsheets and determined utility usage costs. Along with that, I have worked with my supervisors to re-evaluate the cost structure to rent out the theatre so that it is consistent and reasonable. Throughout my term as an AmeriCorps member I hope to help make the Alpine Theatre a go-to spot for music, arts, etc. By the end, I hope to see an event in the theatre at least once a week if not more, along with more renovations and upgrades. I want the theatre to be preserved, utilized, and kept in the hearts of the Ripley residents.
For Main Street Fairmont’s project, we were rehabilitating the Citizen Building, an 1880s commercial building and one of the oldest in downtown. The Citizen Building is not on the National Register of Historic Places but it is a contributing structure to the Downtown Fairmont Historic District. In addition, funding for our project came from the Natural Capital Investment Fund, a federal grant program under the USDA. For this reason, we had to undertake a section 106 Review.
Our review process was pretty straightforward.
First we had to define the “Area of Potential Effects” or note the historic structures that would be impacted by the project. We were making direct changes to a historic building, so our APE was limited to the building itself. In larger projects, the APE could include the potential for damage by blasting for a road, or having the view from a historic structure or landscape interrupted by a pipeline.
The second step is to gather documentation for our project. For us, this included submitting our proposed changes to the Citizen Building. For a non-rehabilitation project, it might be new construction plans or the plan for a highway. In addition we submitted a letter from the local Historic Review Commission, as evidence that our changes would not impact the historic character or integrity of the building.
Our review project was relatively simple, but there can be a whole host of actions taken for larger projects including surveys for potentially historic buildings and public hearings for how to diminish impacts. Ultimately a deal for saving a historic place could be reached an Memorandum of Agreement between, but this is not always the case. For more information about what is required for a Section 106 Review please visit (http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/review.html) and for more information about the Section 106 Process in general please check out this handy guide published by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (http://www.achp.gov/docs/CitizenGuide.pdf)
On August 22, I attended a meeting between alumni and administration of Salem International University (SIU) to discuss the possibility of preserving the old Administration Building. The Administration Building was built in 1910 in the Collegiate Gothic style and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Salem International University president, Dan Nelant, opened the day by discussing the current status and future goals of the university. He related that the university’s stance on the old Administration Building is that while they do not want to see the building demolished, they do not have a current use for it. They cannot direct any resources to preserving the building due to the needs of the current students and programs. Next, local architectural firm, WYK Associates, Inc., presented a condition and prognosis report of the Administration Building. James Swiger, WYK President, voiced concern over the building’s basement, theater balcony, and roof, and estimated the building’s restoration costs to be $3-4 million. Many in the room thought demolition might be the better option after listening to WYK’s assessment. People suggested using the building’s bricks to create a memorial park on the site.
After the campus walking tour and lunch, everyone reconvened for a brainstorming session about possibilities for the Administration Building. I took advantage of this time to explain the economic benefits of historic preservation to the group. I also recommended that the SIU administration have a historic building assessment done before any major decisions were made, and I suggested that it could be mothballed for added security and stabilization. I provided a set of handouts on the issues I discussed so that the alumni and administration could do further research. Additionally during the afternoon session, suggestions were made for the future use of the building. A popular idea was an emergency/urgent care clinic for Salem that could potentially staffed by SIU nursing students. Another idea thrown around was transferring ownership of the Administration Building to the Salem University Foundation or a different nonprofit to handle the preservation of the building. Overall, the discussion gradually moved away from demolition as a solution, and another meeting has been scheduled for October between SIU administration and alumni to continue the conversation.
The meeting was a good first step regarding the fate of SIU’s old Administration Building. Demolition is off the table for now. It’s up to the greater community of Salem and SIU alumni to continue the dialog and think positively on the possibilities for the building’s use.
The Morgantown History Museum is located at 175 Kirk Street in Morgantown and is open Tuesday through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For questions call (304) 319-1800, send an e-mail to email@example.com or visit our website http://www.morgantownhistorymusuem.org.
The Old Hemlock Foundation is located at 17098 Brandonville Pike, P. O. Box 69 in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. They can be contacted at (304) 379-7505, firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.oldhemlock.org.
These young men partnered with me to promote the historical society’s events and volunteered for our WV Writers event and Small Museum Exhibit workshop. Furthermore, they helped me round up more college-age people for my first major volunteer event with the HCWVHS. We sponsored a clean-up day at the Stealey-Goff-Vance House in October, and Donald brought a small army of WVU ROTC Silver Wings members to accomplish this task. Even though their semester of service was over in December, Donald and Jordan continue to volunteer for the HCWVHS. Our board of directors was so pleased with our fall semester C S & L students that we participated in the program for the spring semester.
During the spring, the HCWVHS and I presented two school activities to get young people engaged with local history. Michael Spatafore brought his fifth graders from Northview Elementary School for a tour of the Vance House in April. After we divided the students into two groups, my site supervisor, Carol Schweiker, took one group and discussed the house’s first owner, Jacob Stealey, and his role as a tanner in Clarksburg. I then led a conversation on what museum artifacts can tell us about the past, and then the students identified the uses of ten artifacts from our museum. The students had a great time figuring out what the artifacts were and playfully debated with their classmates about the uses of the items. They also asked a lot of great questions about our historic house and the collection.
In May, I presented a school activity using the letters and photographs of a WWII veteran, Richard Criswell, from the HCWVHS archives. Ms. Meese’s Liberty High School students divided into groups, and each group had a folder of primary source documents from Richard Criswell’s life. After exploring the report cards, letters, and newspaper clippings, the students recounted facts about Richard. The students really enjoyed the activity especially the twist ending about what eventually happened to him. Ms. Meese and the students also supplied excellent feedback on how to improve the activity. Over the summer, the HCWVHS is contacting several Harrison County social studies teachers to ask about incorporating both school activities sometime during the next school year.
Lastly, I recruited our youngest volunteer for the HCWVHS in June. The majority of my day-to-day volunteers were women of retirement age until Ms. Meese suggested that I bring one of her students on as a volunteer. I agreed to take her on, and I initially had a hard time coming up with duties that a teenager would find enjoyable. Accessioning photographs and postcards is not exactly the most exciting activity. However, after our first meeting, Shelley (*name has been changed) became excited about putting her art skills to work with our War Remembrances exhibit and tie-dying shirts for the HCWVHS Veterans’ Memorial 5K. She even wants to attend our August lecture on Civil War medicine to possibly get some extra credit for her social studies class. I believe Shelley now understands that doing history can be fun and it’s not just what you read about in a textbook.
Overall, the HCWVHS made significant strides toward more youth involvement during my service year. Our plans for youth-oriented history activities for 2015-2016 are even more ambitious. Our dedication to the next generation will continue the legacy of the Harrison County WV Historical Society and the preserve of history of the area.
By Devin, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
Working with Teresa Quinn’s fourth grade class from Bruceton Mills Elementary and Middle School, Old Hemlock has shown its ability to reach out into the community and build meaningful partnerships with its neighbors. After the class had read The Great Kapok Tree, a story in which a logger is persuaded by animals in a dream to spare a rainforest from destruction, Old Hemlock made a visit to the school and told the students the story of how George Bird Evans had done a similar thing in the children’s own neighborhood, buying back a large stand of old growth virgin hemlocks from a logging company; a beautiful forest that still stands today on the grounds of the Old Hemlock nature preserve. We also introduced the children to all the different kinds of animals that call Old Hemlock home during that meeting – those critters who would be talking to the slumbering logger in his dreams. Then, over the next few weeks, the fourth graders wrote their own story, each child taking a different animal, coloring a picture of it and writing the dialogue it would have with a logger who had come to tear down its home. Once the text and illustrations were complete, we returned to the school to help the students take pictures of their animals in front of a background depicting the actual forest which was saved by Evans. With all the photos taken and the written texts collected, we worked with West Virginia University to get enough copies printed and collated for each child to take one home.
Please enjoy the copy of their book we have included here:
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